The U.S. Air Force has awarded Elon Musk’s SpaceX a $96.5 million contract for the launch of Global Positioning System (GPS) III satellite. The launch of this national security satellite will take place from Cape Canaveral atop a Falcon 9 rocket in February 2019.

Proud moment for SpaceX

SpaceX defeated rival United Launch Alliance (ULA)—a joint venture of Boeing and Lockheed Martin—to win the contract. Only two bids were received for the mission, according to the Air Force’s Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC). The contract covers production of Falcon 9 launch vehicle, launch operations, mission integration, and spaceflight certification.

Gwynne Shotwell, SpaceX president, and COO described it as a proud moment for the company and said that SpaceX is looking forward to work together with the U.S. Air Force for the successful launch of GPS-III satellite.

Last year, the U.S. Air Force had awarded Hawthorne, California-based SpaceX, an $82.7 million contract for the launch of a GPS III satellite in 2018. ULA had not submitted a bid that time, stating that it didn’t have RD-180 rocket engines for the launch. Lt. Gen. Samuel Greaves, commander of SMC’s Los Angeles Air Force Base said that the “competitive award” of the contract to SpaceX “supports SMC’s mission of delivering resilient and affordable space capabilities to our Nation.”

Evaluation of bids

SpaceX was able to win the latest $96.5 million contract by submitting the lowest bid.

Centennial-based ULA argued that while evaluating the bids for technically complex missions like GPS III launches, bidders’ track record of reliability and successful launches should be a stronger factor than putting too much emphasis on price. The company said it had delivered more than 115 satellites to their respective orbits over the past one decade, with 100 percent mission success.

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SpaceX had submitted its bid for the launch of GPS III satellite just weeks after the failure of its Falcon 9 rocket during a test in September 2016. The accident destroyed the rocket as well as a commercial satellite. Earlier in June 2015, a Falcon 9 rocket carrying supplies to International Space Station had failed to reach its destination and exploded mid-way.